GWE

I’ve been watching and learning about trains and railways from television since I was a toddler. In past articles I’ve discussed the BBC series Making Tracks, which was a big influence, and The Train Now Departing, probably the classiest railway television series ever made. Many more documentaries like these were made, particularly during the 1980s, when railway enthusiasm was still bordering on the mainstream.

Today’s railway programmes don’t reach the major channels, but YouTube is your friend, both for contemporary videos and archive footage. The only problem is you have to cut through hours and hours of videos of people stood on the edge of a platform with a camcorder as Tornado flashes past to get to the real gems. I have a whole playlist of railway videos, ranging from classic British Transport Films from the 1950s and 1960s through to the bang-up-to-date All the Stations series. Here are five must-see documentary-length videos for any enthusiast:

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Things can only get better

Posted: June 9, 2017 in Politics

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Wow, what a night. Well, that showed me…

That was my favourite election night yet – not that there’s a huge amount of competition. I’ve never been more delighted to have been wrong. I’m going to totally drop any sense of impartiality here – I keep getting my objective predictions wrong so what’s the point?

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Final thoughts on Election Eve

Posted: June 7, 2017 in Politics

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I gave up doing the analysis of seats Labour were possibly going to lose to the Tories around the country. The situation in this election has changed by the week. At the start of this campaign just over a month ago, the Tories were projected by ComRes to get 50% of the national vote, to Labour’s 25%. A landslide of enormous proportions seemed likely. Figures from the left, centre and right of the party faced ousting. Jeremy Corbyn looked like he might be heading a party of less than 150 MPs come 9th June, with no representation in Scotland and the loss of a majority of seats in heartlands like Wales and the North East.

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I’ve temporarily stopped writing my State of Play articles in part because the picture in the polls is fluctuating so much, I’m not sure it’s entirely valid to be exclusively focusing on Tory gains/Labour losses now. The latest YouGov Wales poll seems to indicate that further, with Labour, who were 10 points behind the Tories a month ago, now 10 points ahead – the same margin as in 2015, albeit with 7% more. This is being driven by further collapses in the Lib Dem vote, along with Plaid Cymru losing a quarter of their vote, and even some former UKIP votes falling Labour’s way. The Tories are seemingly hoovering up another chunk of UKIP vote.

Labour have been gradually gaining over the last couple of weeks and are now consistently polling higher than their overall total of 2015, not to mention 2010. Some polls have Labour even polling higher in England than in 2005, when they won overall. With Wales now trending upwards significantly, it is only Scotland that looks bleak for Labour – but on the current trend, the next Scottish poll may show a drop in the Tory vote, which would be great news for Labour in any case as it would mean the Tories are less likely to pick up a significant number of seats north of the border.

As far as Wales is concerned, we have now gone from discussing the possibility of Labour losing several seats – Delyn, Alyn and Deeside, Wrexham, Bridgend, both Newport seats, two Cardiff seats, and potentially others – we are now looking at Labour making gains. The Tory majority in Gower is wafer thin and Labour will be targeting winning it back. The same goes for Vale of Clwyd. Cardiff North voted heavily Remain and the Tory majority isn’t substantial. Electionforecast.co.uk are even suggesting Preseli Pembrokeshire, the seat of former Tory leadership candidate Stephen Crabb, will go back to Labour, which would be an enormous shock. Meanwhile, Plaid’s loss of votes could bring Labour into play in Arfon, where their majority is just 3,668 (13.7%).

If this surge is reflected nationally – with working class voters who had threatened to jump ship to the Tories being frightened off by their hard right stance and a poor campaign – Labour could actually be in a surprisingly strong position. One aspect that I had previously overlooked due to Labour’s poor poll ratings but is now coming into play with their recovery is the possibility of them taking narrowish Tory seats that voted Remain, like Cardiff North and Preseli Pembrokeshire. Brighton Kemptown, Stroud and Hendon are other example of this. There is also the issue of the Lib Dems potentially doing the same thing in seats like Twickenham, Kingston and Surbiton and Lewes – if they can be forgiven for the coalition.

All of this creates a very muddied picture. The Tories were all set to make gains in Labour seats which voted Leave and had high UKIP votes last time. But the Labour vote is now resurgent, the UKIP vote doesn’t seem to be falling as squarely with the Tories as it earlier seemed, and the minority party vote (with the exception of the SNP) seems to be fracturing. The Lib Dems are facing a potential wipe-out of all their current English MPs and may be reliant on gains to hold any presence in the Commons at all – Nick Clegg, who benefited from tactically-voting Tories last time, would likely lose his seat if the Labour vote in Sheffield Hallam can hold together.

Far from the Tory landslide we thought, this could get very messy in a totally different way. If the Welsh trend is repeated across the country as the Tory campaign continues to misfire, Labour might have a chink of light, not to win the election but to effectively defeat the Tories – by stopping them passing a Queen’s speech, preventing them from governing and forcing another election.

The Tories won 330 seats in 2015 (331 including the Speaker, but he doesn’t vote), Labour on 232. To gain a majority, a party needs 326 seats, so the Tories have an official majority of 8. However, Sinn Fein have 4 seats and do not take them up in Westminster, so it is a working majority of 12. For every seat the Tories gain from Labour, their majority increases by 2, and vice versa.

Until the last few days, this has been considered a formality. But suppose the Labour vote holds – the Tories take a couple of Leave-voting seats with a UKIP swing, but Labour in turn take a wad of Remain-voting Tory seats. How does the maths work out?

Assuming the Northern Ireland seats stay the same, the Tories will need at least 324 seats to remain in majority government. If the Lib Dems do get wiped out in England and don’t gain any seats, the Tories will gain Richmond Park, Southport, North Norfolk, Carshalton and Wallington, and Westmorland and Lonsdale. That would put them on 335 – an official majority of 18. Labour would gain Sheffield Hallam and Leeds North West, putting them on 234.

The question of the SNP-vs-Tory seats is a big one. The Tories were projected to win as many as 10-12 SNP seats earlier in the campaign, but if the effect there is similar to the one seen in Wales, Scottish voters may now have cooled to the idea of voting for the Tories, and they may only gain 2 or 3 seats. For now, we’ll assume it’ll be 5, putting them in 340, giving them a majority of 28.

So how many seats do Labour have to gain to force a hung parliament? Taking 15 seats off the Tories would take them below the majority line, but they would need to take a further 2 to take them below the working majority line of 324. Even then, though, 323 would probably be enough – the Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists, both centre-right parties, could be persuaded to support a Queen’s speech. Between them, they have 10 MPs. 323 Tories plus 10 unionists would give a majority of 14, and a working majority of 18.

The target therefore is getting the Tories below the number of seats where their total could be added to the unionist total and still not reach the working majority line – at the moment that line is at 314. To get below that would mean a net loss of 17 seats, but with the potential gains from the Lib Dems and the SNP factored in, the Tories would have to lose around 27 seats to not be able to make the mark needed to get a Queen’s speech through. If all of those gains were from Labour, that would put them on 261 seats.

For reference, here are the top 30 targets Labour:

1. Gower
2. Derby North
3. Croydon Central
4. Vale of Clwyd
5. Bury North
6. Morley and Outwood
7. Plymouth Sutton and Devonport
8. Thurrock
9. Brighton Kemptown
10. Bolton West
11. Weaver Vale
12. Telford
13. Bedford
14. Plymouth Moor View
15. Lincoln
16. Peterborough
17. Cardiff North
18. Corby
19. Warrington South
20. Waveney
21. Southampton Itchen
22. Keighley
23. North Warwickshire
24. Carlisle
25. Copeland
26. Halesowen and Rowley Regis
27. Crewe and Nantwich
28. Erewash
29. Hendon
30. Ipswich

The truth is Labour will probably need help from the Lib Dems in some seats – here are the Tory-vs-Lib Dem seats inside that range:

1. Eastbourne
2. Lewes
3. Thornbury and Yate
4. Twickenham
5. Kingston and Surbiton
6. St Ives
7. Torbay

There is also Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, seat of Scottish Secretary David Mundell, which is within range for the SNP on a good night for them.

It seems a very tall order, but it’s not entirely out of the question. It’ll take a lot to go in Labour’s favour – they’d need to hold all their marginals against the Tories, which seems unlikely, the SNP continuing to get huge support across the board in Scotland, and probably a small Lib Dem revival in some of their former seats, as well as taking some seats in areas that voted Leave. Frankly, even with optimistic polling, it seems very unlikely. But with momentum with Labour, anything seems possible right now. The fact that we’re even discussing this, having previously been discussing a potential Tory majority of 200 and the potential destruction of the Parliamentary Labour Party only a few weeks ago is remarkable – and shows that there’s still a long way to go before this election is decided.

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Bristol Parkway is a pretty soulless place, devoid of any character or interest. It is one of Britain’s most modern railway creations, which developed from being a couple of platforms and a car park in a field in South Gloucestershire to an important rail interchange. The construction of everything on the site gives the impression that any architects involved tried to build the most features with the smallest amount of money. Everything looks lightweight and tinny. It’s no place to be stranded to change trains – there’s nothing there – and yet that’s exactly what it was meant to be.

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The TransPennine revolution

Posted: May 16, 2017 in Transport

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Rail travel in the North of England is currently undergoing nothing short of a total transformation. By 2020, the fleet of regional operator Northern will have been totally transformed with nearly 100 new trains to replace the outgoing Pacers, while Virgin Trains East Coast are ditching their InterCity 125s and 225s in favour of the new Hitachi InterCity Express trains, known as Azumas. But perhaps the most interesting changes are those planned for TransPennine Express. Currently the region’s intermediate franchise, operating semi-fast regional services on the East and West Coast routes and through the heart of the North, the operator is morphing into the full express form its name suggests, with huge fleet changes and a radical shift in emphasis in its routes.
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The North West has long been a Labour heartland. There are still plenty of constituencies which are essentially no-go areas for the Conservatives – the moment a Tory gets elected in Liverpool is the moment you know things are dire for Labour. But despite having a lot of well-off suburbs, this was a region that went almost totally red during the Blair landslide years, and the Tories have had to chip away over the last three elections to gain a more significant presence.

However, as in the other northern regions, this may be about to change. 16 Labour or Lib Dem seats here had a right-wing party majority in 2015. With the collapse of the UKIP vote incoming, these seats will come into play in this election, and if the Tories take all of them, they will have a majority in the North West region:

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